Talent does not a celebrity make. A flair for showmanship, versatility, and a greed for fame for fame's sake set apart a celebrity from more talented achievers. Along with celebrity also comes notoriety, which adds a soupcon of schadenfreude - the German word for delight at another person’s misfortune - to the public’s general disdain for fallen angels.
In today’s India, the biggest celebrities are film stars and cricketers. But stardom goes before a fall, or at least goes to jail. Shah Rukh Khan is the latest superstar in the thick of a drugs scandal with son Aryan Khan spending days in the cooler after a bust on a cruise ship. Judges are human too; it is not every day that they get to decide the fate of a big kahuna or a star son caught in a juicy scandal.
The irony of celebrity is that the bigger the odium the better, as long as the hotshot can get away with it. Take the great seducer Casanova. He wrote love letters for a Roman Cardinal. He was a professional gambler, cuckolded uncountable husbands, broke jail, was a spy and a scamster.
In his own words, "Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life; I never found any occupation more important." This is the celebrity's fatal flaw. Hence, the most loved and adored personages are the most unforgiven too; ask our politicians who get voted out when they least expect it.
Fame is fickle, infamy is everlasting. The reason why the public hate a celebrity who slipped is that he or she has shattered their dream of perfection. Celebrities offer people escape from the daily burdens of their humdrum lives of packed lunches, dreary commutes, office politics, mundane sex lives, vegetable shopping, EMIs and failed affairs by showing them a taste of what can be. Actors, rock stars, sportsmen and race car drivers lead glamorous lives on fabulous earnings.
They live in a fantasy galaxy of McMansions, private islands, beautiful partners with perfect bodies and imperfect minds; a dress they wear or a mannerism becomes all the rage of the day. Charisma defines celebrity, making every fan believe for a transcendental Walter Mitty moment, that he or she can be the idol they lust after.
When a celebrity golfer kills his wife, a Hollywood heartthrob is arrested for propositioning a prostitute, or a cricketer is caught with his hand in a bookie's till, people take it personally. Celebrities become victims of their own fame.
As much as stars love fame, living up to the ever-ascending expectations of the adoring public can be exhausting. Enshrined and glorified in popular imagination, many celebrities lose sight of what they are - humans with talent who made it big with lots of hard work and a little bit of luck. Genius is a merciless master. Public adulation is a punisher. Kurt Cobain shot himself. Parveen Babi died a gruesome death. Sanjay Dutt was jailed as a terrorist.
The smarter ones like SRK, Salman Khan or Mohanlal stay grounded, not because they were smarter, but they knew they were smarter. Whether Aryan smoked pot is not the question - so many do worse. Whether SRK and Mamata Banerjee are buddies is irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. What matters is that people forget celebrities are human too.
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